Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category


This weekend the classic comedy series Fawlty Towers celebrates its 40th birthday!

In December 1974 John Cleese cast me as cockney detective Danny Brown in the pilot episode of the series that is now celebrated as one of the great comedy shows of TV history.


Quite why he cast me I have never been able to figure out–until this morning!

The only time I’d met him before was when we were both in an undergraduate production of Much Ado About Nothing directed by Trevor Nunn at Cambridge University in 1961. Although we were both in the same scene–Act IV Scene II–I can’t remember spending any time with him.

He was on the comedy side of university theatre in The Footlights and I was on the straight side, the ADC–the Amateur Dramatic Club.

This morning I pulled out my volume of The Works of Shakespeare (purchased, second hand, in 1960)–and looked up the scene.

John played a member of the Watch (comedy) and I was Borachio (straight)–a henchman of the villainous Don John.

Borachio and his fellow fixer, Conrad, are being arraigned by Constable Dogberry, having been caught red-handed by members of the watch.

Was John so impressed with my cockney accent that 13 years later he reincarnated a reformed Borachio as Detective Danny Brown?!

I was too nervous to ask him in rehearsal–seems the likely explanation though.

A week’s TV work just before Christmas after three years earning peanuts in the theatre was very welcome.

But it involved recording in front of a studio audience–something I’d never done–and I was nervous!

Snooty Basil didn’t like having his hotel foyer polluted with Danny’s broad Cockney accent, but was forced to show him a bit of respect when, failing to make Manuel–the waiter–understand his instructions to take the luggage upstairs–Danny steps into the breach with a surprising display of fluent Spanish.


I don’t speak Spanish–so I learned the lines by rote.

Come the “take”–nails biting into my palms–I managed a faultless rendition of the Spanish lines–only to be told by the floor manager that there was a camera in shot–and we would have to go again!


There I am on the DVD, speaking fluent Spanish, so I must have managed it again–but I have no memory of it!


I had just been cast as Ross Poldark and after Christmas began work on the epic that changed my life.

It wasn’t the end of Fawlty Towers for me though.

The pilot was approved and the series got the go-ahead. Six half-hour episodes were in the can, but a late plot change involving Polly–played by Connie Booth, John’s writing partner and wife at the time–meant they had to re-record part of my dinner scene exchange with Polly.

My hair had grown and changed color for Poldark–so for one afternoon at Television Centre in mid-summer, they dyed my hair dark brown and pinned it up at the back–and I was briefly Cockney Danny Brown again.


I just read a newspaper piece about the anniversary, in which actor Nicky Henson, who appeared in a later episode, rejoices that 40 years later the residuals (those were the days!) are still enhancing his pension.


Nicky Henson with John Cleese

I concur–we were lucky boys!

I doubt playing Borachio has ever paid off so well in the life of an actor!





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I went walnutting this morning after the rain.

Beautiful heavy drops plomping straight down into the cats’ drinking bowls with a splash.

The sort of rain that can topple a walnut from the tree before it is quite ready to fall–thus making an early expedition to walnut alley worthwhile.

A big wind blew last night as we went to bed–violently shaking the trees.

Then rain this morning–a perfect scenario for a seasoned walnutter.


Came back with two sacks (five pounds!) of walnuts–freed them from their outer cases–and a good feeling.


Hosed them down and decanted them into a filigreed steel basket to sit in the sun.


Now for lunch.

I made the walnut pasta two days ago for Meredith to photograph for the next book–Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics–due out in the Spring.

We didn’t feel like eating it just then–but I had a plan… (see below)


Here is the original recipe which is beautifully simple.


Spaghettini with Walnut, Garlic and Parmesan Sauce

 serves 4
  • 100g/4oz shelled walnuts – be careful, if you shell them yourself, to avoid any teeth-cracking bits being left in
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp parsley, chopped, plus a little extra parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • 5 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 1 tbsp walnut oil
  • 425g/14oz wholewheat spaghettini or spaghetti
  • 100g/4oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve

Put the walnuts, garlic and parsley in a food processor, season with salt and pepper, add the oils and pulse to a sauce of this texture:


Add the grated cheese and mix.


Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water.

Drain it– keeping a little of the cooking liquid– and put the pasta back in the hot pan.

Add the sauce and a tablespoon of the cooking liquid (i.e. hot, salted water) and turn it over thoroughly.

Turn it into a warmed bowl and sprinkle with extra parsley.

Serve immediately with more olive oil and Parmesan to hand.


It’s a favorite pasta for us!

Two days later and…

I’m lightly sautéing half the spaghettini in walnut sauce (half because there are only two of us) to go with a small salad of sliced tomatoes gathered from our garden–another harvest this morning.


Panfried Walnut Pasta (for leftovers!)

(This pasta lends itself to re-use, crisping up nicely for a crunchy bite.)

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sauté pan.

When the oil is hot, slip in the pasta.

Cook this over a medium heat for about 5 or 6 minutes. The bottom should be crispy brown.


Turn this over carefully with a spatula and cook the other side to a similar effect.

Halve the pancake (I find scissors work well!) and divide between two plates.


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We have a visitor this weekend–she came last weekend too and will probably be with us next weekend as well.

That might seem like pushing your luck as a house guest….

Since she doesn’t have any choice in the matter, “pushing your luck” doesn’t come into it!

The “she” in question is, of course, the adorable mite of a kitten featured in a recent post.


A calico–mixed fawn and black–with a black smudge on her lower lip that suggests she’s been sucking on a lump of coal.

She’s grown a little since last week.

Here she is taking a siesta on an exceptionally hot afternoon.


Her name is Fleur, though the French call a cat with this coloring an isabelle. I haven’t found out why.

We are in love!

Sadly for us though, she belongs to Flo, our oldest French friend and neighbor.

Flo drives to the Mediterranean at the weekends to help her husband selling fishing tackle on the coast.

Two hours in a hot car–not good for kittens–so we have a weekend guest.


Fleur is feisty, always curious, with intelligent eyes asking questions–and hoppity-hop.

She crouches and jumps–does the cat sideways rush and plays tomboy with our youngest cat, Midnight.


He’s delighted to shed–for a moment–the “Junior” tag.

They race across the courtyard, then tumble together, all squeals.

“Gently now–she’s just a kitten!”

Such fun to hide behind a flower pot, swishing your tail, waiting for Midnight.

This weekend though she’s out of luck.

Midnight–poor lad–is ill and not up for japes. He’s been curled up on a chair for a couple of days.

Must be something he ate–a lizard, perhaps*.

Fleur had a quieter time this trip.


Just as well, it’s getting hot again after a few days respite–rain even.

Ben was pleased–he’s finding her playfulness irksome–and absents himself at the end of the garden.

Flo knows we’re hooked and helped the parting last weekend with a suggestion.

“We’ll let Fleur have one litter of kittens and you shall have first choice.”

On verra dans un an….[We’ll see in a year….]

Meantime we look forward to Fridays.

IMG_1262 - Version 3

By the way, today is International Cat Day! (No kidding!)

*Since I wrote this Midnight paid a visit to the vet and was treated for a high temperature. Youngster that he is, he has bounced back. Fleur is delighted.







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Sweet and savory.

Our friend Helen Richmond in Tuscany tipped us the wink on this unusual combo.

The tang of the lime juice offsets the sweetness of the melon.

The mild bite of the onion complements the saltiness of the feta.

The colors are seductive and the taste suggests…

I shut my eyes as I take a mouthful and I’m on Corfu–and they are grilling the lamb chops for the main course!

Thank you, Helen!

for 8 as a starter


  • 1.5 k of watermelon (surprising how much a big slice weighs!)
  • 250 gm feta cheese
  • a good handful of juicy black olives–stoned and halved
  • a small red onion–peeled, halved and finely sliced
  • a handful of mint–chopped
  • a good handful of parsley— leaves off the stem but kept intact
  • 2 tbs lime juice (freshly juiced)
  • 6 tbs olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

Release the flesh of the melon by carefully running a sharp knife round the inside of the crescent of rind–take your time!


Lightly steer a teaspoon along the ridge of pips skillfully dislodging them without mushing up the flesh.

Cut the flesh into bite-size squares.

Cut the feta in smaller squares.


Place the melon and the olives in a bowl and add the feta.


Sprinkle over the red onion and the mint.

Mix the lime juice, olive oil and a couple of grinds of black pepper. (A screw-top jar is good for this–add ingredients and shake it all about!)

Pour this over the the salad and carefully turn it all over–hands (washed!) work well!


Add the parsley leaves and refrigerate until you are ready to serve (best served thoroughly chilled).











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Thick slices of in-season aubergine softened in the oven at a high temperature then topped with ripe tomatoes cooked with garlic, a little chili and a slice of mozzarella or grated parmesan.



To brighten a cloudy day…

Summer simplicity–using vegetables bang in season and begging to be used.

Me, sir! Me! Me, sir! Just like at school; eager hands in the air, knowing the answer.

This is a Nigel Slater idea from his book Tender.

I am using:


  • 2 aubergines/eggplants–sliced thickly


  • Olive oil (for brushing the sliced aubergines)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lb/450 grams tomatoes–ripe as can be–roughly chopped


  • 1 tbs olive
  • 1 garlic clove–peeled and chopped
  • a small dry chili–chopped (no need to take out the seeds)
  • small handful of basil leaves (optional)
  • A medium ball of mozzarella–sliced thick
  • 2 tbs grated parmesan

Oven: 220C/430F  (hot!)

Oil an oven tray large enough to take the aubergine slices.

Brush the aubergines with olive oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper–generously!

Put the tray in the top of the oven and cook for about 25 minutes (check at 20 minutes, but the aubergines profit from a little singeing–and they must be soft).


While the aubergines are cooking, heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan and add the tomatoes, garlic, chili and basil (if you have it).


Cook for 20 minutes or until you have a nice mess of tomatoes.


Remove the aubergine slices from the oven and spread some of the tomato sauce on each with a teaspoon.


Top each slice with the grated parmesan or a slice of mozzarella.


Put the tray back in the oven for about ten minutes–long enough for the cheese to melt.


Oh my!


We had small salad with these–using cherry tomatoes from the garden, cucumber, sliced onion and small pieces of feta. (It was intended to be a Greek salad but I forgot the black olives!)


A three CHEESE feast!

An interested guest looked on.


More of her later…






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Balls and the Reverend Dr Halse make an odd conjunction–yet there it is; the invitation, propped up on the mantle for all the world to see.

The Reverend Dr Halse… 

(’twas but he, Mrs Halse having died of shock several years previously, while attending the first assizes of the newly elevated Reverend and seeing him in his new judicial wig).


George and Carey Warleggan respectfully request the honour of your presence at  the Warleggan Ball, Tuesday the…. “

One doesn’t easily imagine the grumpy bench sitter tripping off to dance the light fantastic with the crème de la crème of Cornish society!

Rather one pictures him, as he is now, deep in his throne-like armchair at Halse Hall, a beautifully crafted balloon brandy glass cupped in his mean and boney hands, re-running recent trials over which he presided–chiding himself on his leniency.


Indeed, the idea of gracing Hugh Bodruggan’s pile with his presence at the opening Hunt Ball of the season, sends such self-righteous shiver down his spine, he nearly spills the vintage brandy.


The stories of debauchery!

Sir Hugh slavering over young innocent girls. How is one supposed to maintain standards of decency and order when those that should know better are too drunk to give a damn?

(“Good subject for my sermon, Sunday next.”)

The Warleggans, however–upstarts though they certainly are–(nouveax riche as the French so aptly call them) are a different kettle of fish.


They are proving worthy additions to Society–and they know how to throw a party.

The Warleggan Ball is now the event of the year in the social calendar of Cornwall.

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A not-to-be missed, must-be-seen-at festivity–with a table of delicacies unrivalled in the whole of the South West.

Fine card room to boot!


It is rumored that an invitation has been sent to that renegade Ross Poldark (traitor to his class!) and his wife.

Married his parlour maid indeed!

It’s against the natural order. It offends! It is dangerous!

“I have a duty to see for myself this parvenue, this sally-come-lately, this abomination–what’s her name? Demelza?”


“I shall go!”

This decision taken, he snoozes off, letting the brandy glass slip through his fingers and upend itself, spilling the precious liquid into his lap–soaking his trousers to the flesh!

You too are invited to attend the Warleggan Ball in the 6th episode of POLDARK–Sunday (26th July) on PBS’ Masterpiece!

A barely audible mumble from the armchair:

“Evensong would be a wiser choice.”

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Le Tour de France is in the Tarn today–on its way to the Alps.

We are lucky–geographically speaking–our Department (Tarn) being betwixt and between the two great climbing arenas (Pyrenees and Alps) of this extraordinary three week marathon.


Today’s stage–between Muret, just south of Toulouse and Rodez

Most years it passes through the department–two years in a row through Lautrec, five minutes from chez nous!

Tough day for us today–it’s a twenty minutes drive along a windy country road to see the carnival pass by.

A twenty minute trip to witness what the French regard as the third greatest sporting event in the world (after the World Cup and the Olympics)!

The riders have spent the last three days toiling up impossible gradients in the Pyrenees.


“Up to the top of the hill and down again” and again and again–mountain after mountain.

The tactical intricacies largely remain a mystery but I understand that this is a team event and  that without the support of a committed set of cohorts the star rider could not win.

Going up the mountain, “the team” sets a pace to pulverize the opposition, trying to ensure that when the star rider decides to attack, his rival stars won’t have have the legs to follow.


Chris Frome in yellow, shielded by a teammate in black and blue

Yesterday on the stiffest climb, this happened leg-numbingly often.

Attack!pull back; attack!pull back, attack!pull back.

Nobody made a decisive break and the yellow jersey (maillot jaune, worn by the rider with the least amount of time overall), stayed on the shoulders of  the Brit, Chris Frome.

He made an unexpected break on the first day in the Pyrenees–shooting up the mountain with six and half kilometers (over three miles) to go–nobody could stay with him and he stretched his overall lead to two minutes.


ATTACK by Frome–successful in their case.


Fresh as a daisy it seems–Frome crosses the line and wins the stage.

“Vous devez être content, Monsieur,” said the local man selling me tomatoes in the market the following morning.

For a moment I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Comment, Monsieur?–(happy about what?)

“Monsieur Frome?”

“Ah–oui, bien sur. C’est définitif?” (He’s cracked it?)


“Il est propre (clean)?”

“On ne sait jamais, mais, oui, je crois”.

I think so too.

Chris Frome has never had the cloud of doubt about drug use that hung over and finally swallowed Lance Armstrong.

I reckied the vantage point yesterday and we planned to get there in good time to find the best spot.

A right angle turn would mean the riders slowing down, giving us a chance to spot the leading contenders–perfect!

Well, dear Reader, we never made it to our vantage point.

When the commentator announced it was 40C (104F) outside, we decided to stay on the sofa!


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